Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot addresses the company’s sexual-misconduct turmoil

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Yves Guillemot didn’t exactly seem comfortable, but sometimes you just have to address the proverbial elephant in the room.

Yesterday (September 10), Ubisoft held its latest “Forward” event—essentially a series of live-streamed reveals of new games and updates from the company’s teams around the world.

Amid the news of new titles like Immortals Fenyx Rising and the much-anticipated remake of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Ubisoft CEO Guillemot had another matter to address.

Rocked by allegations

The past few months have been rough ones for Ubisoft. Allegations of sexual misconduct have rocked the company. This has led to numerous high-profile departures from the France-based game publisher, which also operates in Canada.

In August, for example, Ubisoft’s vice-president of editorial and creative services, Tommy François, left the company. Prior to that, on July 6, Ubisoft put François on administrative leave pending an investigation of allegations against him. On the same day, the company released a statement confirming that another of its VPs, Toronto-based Maxime Béland, had resigned. 

These were just the latest in a series of departures as accounts of misconduct came to light, however. Others included PR director Stone Chin; chief creative officer Serge Hascöet; Yannis Mallat, the managing director of Canadian studios; global HR head Cécile Cornet; and an unnamed Ubisoft Toronto staff member.

Promising profound changes

Prior to those departures, Guillemot had released an internal letter. In the July 2 missive, the CEO outlined Ubisoft’s plans to address the allegations. Specifically, he promised “profound changes at all levels”.

“We are not looking for a quick fix, but rather a structural shift at Ubisoft that fully aligns with our values—values that do not tolerate toxic behaviors and where everyone feels safe to speak out,” he wrote. 

In order to achieve this “structural shift”, Guillemot outlined the following concrete initiatives:

  • appointment of a head of workplace culture
  • employee listening sessions in all locations
  • launch of a global employee survey
  • ongoing investigations into allegations
  • comprehensive review of policies and procedures
  • creation of the new position of head of diversity and inclusion

“I am convinced that, all together, we will build a better Ubisoft for the benefit of all,” Guillemot wrote.

“I am truly story”

On September 10, just before the start of Ubisoft Forward, the publisher released a four-minute video. In the video, Guillemot addressed the events of the past few months.

“This summer, we learned that certain Ubisoft employees did not uphold our company’s values, and that our systems failed to protect the victims of their behaviour,” he said. “I am truly sorry to everyone who was hurt. We have taken significant steps to remove or sanction those who violated our values and code of conduct. And we’re working hard to improve our systems and processes. We’re also focused on improving diversity and inclusivity at all levels of the company.

“For example, we will invest an additional $1 million over the next five years in our graduate program,” the CEO continued. “The focus will be on creating opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and people of colour, to join and thrive at Ubisoft.”

The other elephant

There was, of course, another elephant in the very same room.

Last month, Ubisoft released a mobile game called Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad. The game’s plot revolves around UMBRA; the anti-establishment organization is actually a terrorist group controlled by a foreign power.

While this sounds like a standard enough setup for a Clancy-derived game, Ubisoft ran into some controversy. It turns out that UMBRA’s logo—a black fist raised in defiance—closely resembles imagery associated with Black Lives Matter. Since BLM started, right-wing conspiracy nuts like QAnon have floated the notion that it is secretly funded by a third party with nefarious anti-American aims.

Needless to say, people noticed the similarity. In response, Ubisoft vowed to remove the offending logo in the app’s next update. In a tweet, the game publisher acknowledged that its use of the raised-fist logo was “insensitive and harmful”.

Equality and respect for all

While noting that 2020 has been a year of profound societal unrest, Guillemot addressed the Elite Squad controversy. “I want to be clear: Ubisoft stands for equality and respect for all,” he said. “Unfortunately, one of our recent mobile games included content that was inappropriate. This kind of oversight cannot happen. We are putting in place safeguards to prevent it in the future.”

Furthermore, Guillemot avowed full support for the Black Lives Matter cause. He also revealed the Ubisoft would make a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

“We are at the start of a long journey,” Guillemot said. “Real change will take time, but I am determined to do everything within my power to ensure everyone at Ubisoft feels welcome, respected, and safe, and to rebuild the trust our teams, fans, and players have in us.

“To conclude, I’m fully committed to leading the change at Ubisoft, and to ensuring we always uphold and exemplify our core values—in the company, in the industry, in the community, and in our games.”

I have done a lot of different things over the course of my life and professional career. I have interviewed Oscar and Grammy winners and written cover stories for glossy newsstand magazines. I have played guitar in a rock band on national TV and run an independent music label for which I wrote all of the PR and marketing materials. In my spare time, I sweated out a novel about a world where raccoons are kings and dragons are real.

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